Thursday, April 3, 2008

Edwards T-Shirt = Youth In Trouble

Today, Pete Palmer, the son of longtime friends, filed suit against the Waxahachie (TX) Independent School District for violating his First Amendment rights. Last September 21, Pete had the temerity to wear a "John Edwards '08" t-shirt to school. He refused to remove the shirt after school officials informed him that it violated the Student Code of Conduct. Apparently, the same Code of Conduct that would allow him to wear a Dallas Cowboys jersey does not allow him to express a presidential preference. (It would also allow him to wear a jersey from the Washington Redskins -- the Cowboys' hated rivals -- which might well have put him in physical danger. But I digress.)

Now, let's get real here. In my day, codes of conduct were all about long hair on boys and pant suits on girls. That a student would know who was even running for president before the conventions would have amazing in itself. Pete has probably already killed his chances of an invitation to Skull & Bones. Isn't that punishment enough? Moreover, does anyone seriously think he would have been kicked out of school for wearing an Operation Iraqi Freedom t-shirt?

Here's the press release from the Liberty Legal Institute announcing the lawsuit:

Waxahachie , TX- High school Sophomore Paul “Pete” Palmer is filing a lawsuit against the Waxahachie Independent School District (WISD) today for prohibiting him from wearing a John Edwards ’08 t-shirt and violating his right to free speech. Pete is an honor student and member of the WISD high school football team and plays tuba in the WISD high school band.

“It is disappointing for the District to censor a student’s support of a presidential candidate when we are suppose to be teaching our students to be involved in their communities and to be active citizens of this country, “ said Allyson Ho, lead attorney for Palmer and former domestic policy advisor for President Bush and now with Baker Botts.

Sophomore Palmer was suspended from class on Friday, September 21, 2007 after refusing to change his John Edwards ’08 t-shirt on a matter of principle. Pete’s teacher, Ms. Johnson and the Executive Director for Human Resources, Mr. Rick Rodriguez, told Pete his shirt violated WISD’s Student Code of Conduct. This Code of Conduct only allows students to wear clothing with messages that promote a WISD club, organization, or sport team or a college or university.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Morse v. Frederick last year that school officials may only prohibit students from engaging in religious or political speech only when that speech poses a substantial threat to school discipline. School administrators admitted to Pete Palmer that he was not suspended because the speech on his shirt was offensive, but because it contained “unapproved words.”

“It is shameful that Waxahachie ISD allows students to support college football teams but not a candidate for President,” said Hiram Sasser. Students have a constitutionally protected right to wear shirts with religious and political messages, even if some disagree with that message.”

After his suspension, Pete Palmer’s parents appealed the disciplinary action against him with the WISD Principal, Mr. Nix, the Superintendent and the School Board. All upheld the decision to ban the Edwards T-shirt.

The lawsuit filed against WISD today requests declaratory and injunctive relief that would prevent WISD officials from preventing or taking any action against Pete Palmer for wearing the John Edwards ‘o8 shirt.

Liberty Legal Institute is a legal organization committed to the defense of religious freedoms and First Amendment rights. The Institute has won a myriad of cases at the highest levels, including two landmark religious freedoms cases in 2007 alone.

Note: LLI seems like a pretty conservative outfit. Pete's parents, why LLI?


Scrumpy's Baker said...

I know the notice says that religious shirts are also prohibited. However, this being Texas, I have a hard time believing they've ever sent a kid home for wearing a youth group tshirt. And my mind also wonders what would have happened if he'd have been wearing a W shirt.

rgg said...

Excellent point, scrump. I suppose a "United We Stand" or "The Power of Pride" t-shirt would have received the same treatment?
It's nice to know that Waxahachie schools are so good that teachers and administrators don't have anything better to do.
No child left behind!